There was no winter.
For weeks Ashevillians have been walking around in unseasonable clothes, looking guilty. I have been holding out for snow, because bad weather makes good photos. But I feel guilty too, because bad weather also makes car accidents. Therein lies the journalist’s moral paradox: If everything is fine, what will I report?
With that in mind, it’s important to note that the most-criticized (so far) Argus photos were taken in the big 2009 snowstorm: Three images of an older man slipping in the snow at the edge of College Street.
When I mentioned this criticism in the newsroom, Xpress reporter Caitlin Byrd pointed out that the most notable journalism in history comes from the most horrific tragedies in history. This is especially true in photography: Joe Rosenthal’s flag raising at Iwo Jima; Eddie Adams’ street execution of a Viet Cong prisoner; Nick Ut’s naked girl running from a napalm attack. And of course, the famous photo of a famine-stricken child collapsed in front of a vulture that was taken by Kevin Carter, who later committed suicide in part because of the things he witnessed.
Obviously, my photos of a man slipping on the sidewalk don’t compare to these horrors. I have two things to say in my defense. First, I did try to help the guy (he gruffly sent me on my way). Second, if you’ve followed the Argus at all, you should be aware that the media’s fascination with tragedy reflects the same obsession in its audience. Don’t blame the journalist, blame the market. We yearn for bad news. We want drama and excitement without any actual danger to ourselves.
So here are some snow photos from years past. You can look at them without feeling cold.
But photos of old, stale bad news do nothing to address the other reason we crave hardship. At this week’s City Council meeting, Asheville street preacher, homeless advocate and general weirdo Brother Christopher Chiaromonte reminded the council of prophecies he claimed to have made years ago. Something about how the city would have no water if it didn’t rectify its treatment of the homeless. Given the current power struggle over water, those predictions, he said, are now coming true.
Bad news allows us to say “I told you so.”
And there was no winter. The plants bloomed early and the heating bills were low. We walked around the streets in summer clothes, unable to accept the warm weather as a gift. It’s surely a dire sign: Global warming, 2012 apocalypse, planets misaligned. Mark my words. I told you so.
But then, the position of the Argus has always been that the world is going to hell. I take the shotgun approach to doomsday prophesies, quantity over quality. So this is nothing new.
The odd thing is that our distrust of the mild winter actually implies a kind of faith. If we fear repercussion, we must believe that there is some order to the universe. Some force that will restore balance. We may claim not to believe in God, or Gaia, or climate change, but we all suspect there’s something keeping the scales honest, even if it’s only the old Heinleinian axiom, TANSTAAFL: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”
Follow on Twitter: @DarkTopo
Other dispatches from the Asheville Argus: